Childhood Lead Poisoning

Poisoning & Prevention

Childhood lead poisoning is a preventable environmental health problem. Elevated blood lead levels can cause physical and mental delays and damage especially in children less than six years of age. The lead poisoning prevention program enforces applicable state laws with the intent of protecting children from exposure to environmental lead hazards.

Lead Paint in the Home

Lead paint was phased out and was illegal as of 1978 for residential use. Any home, or other building such as a garage, built before 1978 may have lead paint. Homes built earlier are more likely to have lead paint and likely to have higher levels. If you live in a home built before 1978:
  • Treat the paint as if it contains lead.
  • Assume the soil around the house is contaminated with lead paint.
  • Cover the soil with more soil or with mulch to prevent easy access by children.
  • Provide a play area away from old buildings.
  • Keep paint in good condition by repairing substrate damage and properly paint stabilizing.
  • Consider replacing old windows and doors with new more energy efficient products.

Lead Danger for All

Anyone can be poisoned by lead because it is widely used in plastics, batteries, ceramics, paints, and many other items found around your home. The primary cause of childhood lead poisoning is deteriorating lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust and soil inside or outside the home.

Paint Chips

A child can become lead poisoned by eating the "sweet tasting" paint chips or by swallowing lead contaminated dust and soil introduced to the mouth on food, fingers, pacifiers, toys and other objects. Breathing lead dust, fumes, or vapors while sweeping, vacuuming or burning painted boards can also cause lead poisoning.

Dangers to Childhood Development

It takes only about one milligram of lead contaminated dust each day, about the same as one granule of sugar, to poison a child. Lead accumulates in the body so that regular exposure to even small doses can delay development, lower IQ, and alter behavior. Most children show no signs or symptoms.

Children under six years of age are at greatest risk for lead poisoning due to hand-to-mouth activities, increased absorption in their digestive system, and because their bodies are still developing. All children from 9 months to 6 years should have their blood tested for lead by their doctor, clinic or local health department.


The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable by following these practices and activities.
  • Take your child to the doctor, clinic or local health department for a simple blood-lead test.
  • Wash your child's hands and face frequently, especially before eating.
  • Keep fingernails clean and short.
  • Keep toys, pacifiers, and other objects children put into their mouth clean.
  • Do not let children eat paint chips or soil.
  • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking.
  • Change your air filters for your furnace and air conditioner monthly.
  • Do not burn newspapers, colored paper, old magazines, or painted boards in wood stoves or fireplaces.
  • Do not use ceramic containers or open metal cans to store or heat food.
  • Do not store food or drink in leaded crystal.
  • Some imported plastic mini blinds and roll-up shades contain dangerous levels of lead. Remove these and replace with lead-free blinds or shades.

Dealing with Lead Problems

  • Remove shoes before entering the house
  • Wash or scrub walls, woodwork, floors, window sills, frames and wells, and porch railings. Use a high-phosphate detergent such as trisodium phosphate or powder dishwashing detergent and change the water frequently.
  • Regularly clean furniture, carpeting, rugs, and draperies using steam cleaning methods, or vacuum using a special extra-fine filtering collection bag. High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuums are the best type. Call your local health department at 252-459-9829 to see if one is available.
  • Hose off outside porches, steps, and sidewalks so dirt and dust is not tracked into the home.
  • Move children's furniture and cribs away from unsafe areas, such as windows and damaged areas on walls and woodwork.
  • Remove loose paint on small areas by misting the area with water, scrape peeling paint, and collect on a drop cloth. Collect paint chips and seal in a plastic bag for disposal.
  • Cracking and peeling paint may be temporarily covered with tape, contact paper, or cloth
  • If lead components have been used in pipes and fixtures, let tap water run until you feel a temperature change
  • Keep windows closed on windy days to prevent lead contaminated dust and soil from blowing inside
  • Don't let children play in dirt. Cover bare areas with fresh soil, grass, rocks or wood chips, concrete, or bushes
  • Gardens should be planted away from painted buildings, fences, and busy roads
  • Provide safe areas for children to play. Build a sandbox filled with lead-free sand. Swing sets and other play equipment should be away from painted buildings
  • Eat foods high in calcium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin C, and zinc. These foods help decrease lead absorption in your body
  • Eat healthy snack food throughout the day to improve overall nutrition and to reduce lead absorption


Lead testing, developmental screening, nutritional counseling, or environmental investigation, call:
  • Edgecombe County Health Dept.
    2909 Main St.
    Tarboro, NC 27886
    Ph: 252-641-7511

    107 Atlantic Avenue
    Rocky Mount, NC 27801
    Ph: 252-985-4100
  • Edgecombe-Nash Preventive Maintenance Program
    300 N. Grace St., Suite 231
    Rocky Mount, NC 27804
    Ph: 252-212-0130
    Fx: 252-121-0134

  • Nash County Health Dept.
    214 S. Barnes St.
    Nashville, NC 27856
    Ph: 252-459-9819

    322 S. Franklin St.
    Rocky Mount, NC 27804
    Ph: 252-446-0027

Legal Advice

Free legal advice and representation for low-income individuals on lead issues, contact Eastern Carolina Legal Services at 252-442-0635 or at:
148 S. Washington St., #105
P.O. Box 388
Rocky Mount, NC 27804-0388

Dealing with Lead Poisoning

For assistance for families dealing with the effects of lead poisoning, contact:
  • Edgecombe County Department of Social Services
    3003 N. Main St.
    Tarboro, NC 27886
    Ph: 252-641-7611
  • Nash County Department of Social Services
    120 W. Washington St.
    Nashville, NC 27856
    Ph: 252-459-9818

  • United Parents Against Lead of North Carolina, Inc.
    P.O. Box 475
    Red Oak, NC 27868
    Ph: 252-937-4112